| Bolton: Stink in air
New York, Nov. 6: Senior UN officials are ignoring the scathing reports into their handling of the corruption-ridden Iraqi oil-for-food programme, according to John Bolton, the outspoken US ambassador to the UN.
He accused them of living in a “bubble” as they disregard the damning findings of the Volcker commission established by Kofi Annan, the secretary-general. The inquiry criticised the UN and Annan for their failings in running a scheme from which Saddam Hussein skimmed off an estimated $2 billion.
At a private dinner in New York last week, Bolton gave guests a hard-hitting critique of life at the UN. “In the bubble on First Avenue, Volcker is just ignored. I talk about it, but it’s a solitary conversation. Nobody else will be fired unless people are indicted by outside authorities.
“Corruption didn’t arise out of thin air, it arose out of the culture of the place. Bribes, mismanagement etc ' it would be unacceptable for executives in any normal organisation.” He said UN staff could accept gifts worth up to $10,000 in a year without any requirement to disclose them.
In a breakthrough for US pressure for reform, the UN announced last week that it planned to reduce the $10,000 figure to $250 under rule changes proposed by new under-secretary for management, Christopher Burnham, a former Bush administration official.
Bolton, a prominent critic of the UN, was appointed in August by George W Bush, who used special powers to overrule Democrats and a rogue Republican who had blocked his Senate confirmation.
They criticised him as a Right-wing ideologue opposed to any American co-operation with the UN and also highlighted his role in pushing the war against Iraq on the basis of disputed intelligence on its weapons programmes.
He once quipped: “If (the UN secretariat building) lost 10 storeys, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
At a frank discussion, Bolton said of his three months in the job: “Have I enjoyed it' It’s exactly what I expected.” Asked what he enjoyed most at the UN, he said: “It’s a target-rich environment.”
He said the prevailing anti-US sentiment among many delegates helped to explain why the UN failed to seize the opportunities offered by the end of the Cold War.
“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the UN has become the focus for a lot of people who have an agenda against the United States. We are having the same debates we thought we were having 20 years ago. The UN is seen by many as a chance to counter-balance us.”
He cited the Kyoto treaty, setting up of an International Criminal Court and targets for overseas aid as “efforts by many countries to get us to agree to things that we’d never support” through the tactic of “collective embarrassment”.